Thursday, June 2, 2011

Time travel, motivation, creative problem solving, and testing

It's amazing what cleaning up one's email does. But let me back up a minute …..

Two weeks ago my tough Toshiba -- faithful companion through all Wilkes courses -- wouldn't boot up. I took it to my tech guys who were able to back up all the data and get it running again, but only sort of. There just wasn't any sound. Try as we might with fixes we found on the internet, the problem could not be fixed. The computer had been beeping strangely when booting up for some time, and I was on the last week of my 3 year, on site warrantee with Toshiba, so I contacted them thinking a nice miracle worker would come to my door to set everything right. Instead, they insisted on a compete reset back to factory settings in order to diagnose what was software and what was hardware related.

Now, I use my email as a sort of diary of daily connections, so there are over 10,000 sitting there -- some categorised nicely in folders, others just relegated to the junk file or left in the in-box. And all of this dates back to when I abandoned my desktop machine in 2009. I decided that before wiping out the heart of my machine, at the very least I ought to sort the individual folders and the junk file to preserve relevant content and purge the rest.

I started at the top, quickly got tired, and moved to the bottom of the list. There was more to delete from there, so it gave me the illusion of going faster. To my surprise, the process turned out to be quite interesting. I had set up the system so that most subscriptions would go to 'junk' simply so they wouldn't clutter up my in-box every day. Scanning these turned into a compressed journey through technological time. For example, I watched Google Wave go from inception to demise. I revisited the early smartphone and pre-tablet eras when making technology easily accessible in classrooms seemed an insurmountable hurdle. It made me very aware of the problems that 'technological disparity' is going to create in North American classrooms where a public school education is supposed to be one of society's great equalizers.

It also made me resolve to delete 200 old emails per day as well as read or properly classify all new ones rigorously which leads me to today's mashup. I offer you two items this week's emails : an article entitled "Panel Finds Few Learning Gains from Testing Movement" and a video (below) called "Gamifying Education."

What occurs to me is that perhaps U.S. educational policy makers should be looking at how to get from where they are (tests don't boost learning) to where they want to be (ensuring greater learning success for more children) as a game of connections (as in the last segment of the video). My worry is that they won't use this as a reason to apply creative problem solving and critical thinking skills to the problem but will just respond by adding another level of tests or by rejigging the existing tests to make it harder to 'game the system'.

I'd be interested in reading your thoughts on one, either, or both. What do you find are life and school's greatest motivators?

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